Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode I Review

-------Guide to My Rating System------

5 out of 5 – Fantastic. Loved it. Get it. Now.
Example: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

4 out of 5 – Great, but its flaws do detract from the experience. Still a lot of fun, and generally worth a buy.
Example: Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty

3 out of 5 – Alright. There’s certainly fun to be had, but it’s very flawed. My “mixed bag” rating. Not worth the risk of buying it for full price, but if you find it for $20, it’s a decent purchase.
Example: Sonic Unleashed

2 out of 5 – Below average. May have its good points and even shine sometimes, but a bad experience overall. Bargain bin purchase at best, if you’re a fan of the franchise.
Example: Sonic and the Secret Rings

1 out of 5 – Garbage. Don’t buy it, don’t rent it, don’t borrow it, don’t play it, don’t look at it, don’t even think about it.
Example: Dragon Ball Z: Ultimate Battle 22


The point where Sonic’s descent into chaos began is highly contested among the fanbase and gaming journalists. Some say it began with Sonic Adventure, some Sonic Adventure 2, some Sonic Heroes and some place the point where things turned to crap even later. For me it began with Shadow the Hedgehog in 2005. The tedious mission structure was made even worse by the uncooperative camera, and the “darker” aspects of the game really seemed like a joke in a game about a 3-foot-tall hedgehog, in addition to the voice acting. It wasn’t a complete mess, but it certainly wasn’t very good. Thankfully, we also got Sonic Rush that year, a fantastic sidescroller on DS. It wasn’t over just yet.

The real crap started the next year in 2006. It was Sonic’s 15th anniversary and Sonic fans were waiting with baited breath for the game that would come out for the then-new Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 consoles and change the Sonic formula forever. It was to be titled simply SONIC THE HEDGEHOG, and would be a complete gameplay reboot of the franchise. Unfortunately, when it came out, it was obvious that it was unfinished. The game was broken in almost every way imaginable. Scripted events would mess up, flinging you out of a loop and to your doom. Sonic would go through walls and controlled like a slippery lizard. The story was overemphasized and in addition to that was filled with plotholes and a relationship between a human character and our blue hedgehog buddy that can only be described as strange and gross. The game was supposed to change the Sonic formula, but it didn’t it all. It played like Sonic Adventure, except without the speed that made those games so much fun. Yes, SONIC THE HEDGEHOG was slow, and that was a big part of the reason why it was so bad. Oh, wait, it did have fast parts – except they were on rails and unfairly frustrating.

What happened after that, no one can describe. It’s as if SEGA lost all faith in the Sonic brand even as it continued making games. For the next three years, all Sonic games would range from mediocre to decent at best in quality. The only Sonic game released during that time that could be considered good was Sonic Rush Adventure, a sequel to Sonic Rush, for the Nintendo DS. We nearly had a great 3-D Sonic game in Sonic Unleashed, but it seemed as though SEGA was intent on ruining every Sonic game that came out somehow, and Sonic Unleashed came with the Werehog. His stages featured slow, clunky combat that clashed too heavily with the best parts of the game (the daytime stages where Sonic was his normal self) and really weren’t very much fun. What before had only one blemish was now an ugly, disgusting, acne-infected face that no one could look at without grimacing.

After all that crap, SEGA finally decided to take Sonic back to his roots. The first episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, an episodic release on iPhone, WiiWare, Playstation Network and Xbox Live Arcade, is out now for all to play and enjoy. So, does it succeed in revitalizing the Sonic brand, or does it fall flat on its face once again? The answer is here.


Sonic 4 is played from a 2-D perspective with 3-D styled graphics similar to the Rush games on DS. Everything looks just as it should in a Sonic game. All of the environments are brightly colored with some nice detail, as are the enemies, bosses and Sonic’s sprite. The water effects are really nice, too, with a cool-looking ripple effect. Overall, Sonic 4’s graphics are very pretty, even on Wii. The music similarly succeeds. It offers up the same kinds of upbeat, fun tunes that 2-D Sonic was known for, and it all sounds great. I’ll give particular mention to the music associated with the levels of Lost Labyrinth Zone and Mad Gear Zone, which you’re going to be rocking out to for a long time. (I can’t believe I just said “rocking out.”)

Sonic 4’s gameplay is fundamentally similar to the classic Genesis games to which it is billed a sequel, yet features some notable differences. First of all, Sonic gains the Homing Attack from the 3-D games. If you haven’t played any of the 3-D games, it basically allows Sonic to take out any enemy with the press of a button by locking on to them while in mid-air. Though never overused, it’s put to good use in Sonic 4, allowing you to reach otherwise unreachable areas by attacking a chain of Badniks. It’s a lot of fun to use, and works quite well in 2-D. Another notable difference between Sonic 4 and the classics is the fact that it uses Sonic Rush’s physics rather than the classic physics, which caused a lot of prerelease controversy. Now, admittedly, there are some problems with the physics, (Sonic can stand sideways on slopes sometimes if you get him in the right place and some other minor things; the worst glitches seem to have to be sought out) but it doesn’t ruin the game at all. In fact, I went through the entire game barely even thinking about them. Another side effect of the Rush physics that a lot of people seem to be complaining about is that Sonic appears to have no inertia, coming to a stop immediately upon releasing the d-pad or analog stick. Though it technically doesn’t make any sense, I honestly don’t see how this breaks the game. Sonic still runs fast, and once you get used to the physics, the game is a lot of fun.

Like the classics, to get the Chaos Emeralds in Sonic 4 you have to complete an Act with 50 rings and then jump into the giant ring at the end of the Act to reach the Special Stage, which you must then complete. Sonic 4’s special stages are based off of those of the original Sonic the Hedgehog for SEGA Genesis, but feature all new mechanics and controls. This time around, you must use either the motion control or the D-Pad (on Wii anyway, and probably PS3 as well) to tilt the stage to navigate Sonic through it, a mechanic that works quite well. You’re timed and must collect time bubbles to keep from running out of it, and you also have to collect rings to open doors as you make your way to the Chaos Emerald. These special stages are highly challenging and pretty fun as well. Also like in the classics, collecting all 7 Chaos Emeralds allows Sonic to transform into Super Sonic. Super Sonic runs twice as fast as normal Sonic, jumps higher, is invincible, can breathe underwater and overall is just a ton of fun to play as. All of its differences aside, Sonic 4 accurately captures just how fun it is to run through loop-de-loops, grab rings, bash Badniks and platform, all at high speeds. Sonic 4 has a heckuva lotta speed and is a heckuva lotta fun, even with the different physics, and the Homing Attack is a lot of fun to use.

I really like the level design of Sonic 4. Now, I know there were a lot of prerelease complaints about it being “too automated” and having a perceived overabundance of springboards and boosters, but I honestly never cared. There is automation, but it’s really no more automated than the original Sonic Rush, perhaps even less automated than that. And this is just my opinion, but for me, the so-called “automated” parts really add an extra hectic, fast, feeling to parts of the game. Even with the “automated” parts, the game’s levels have good platforming sections and are a lot of fun to play.

Another reason why I love the levels of Sonic 4 is that almost every level seems to bring in some new, fun gimmick, and the game never gets old. Of course, when I say “gimmick,” I don’t mean anything like the Werehog in Sonic Unleashed or the sword in Sonic and the Black Knight. These are just various little elements that the levels are based around, and they’re all very cool. To give you some examples, Casino Street Act 2 has cards that Sonic can spin to get “hands” of rings and lives. If Sonic gets three of the same type of card, he gets those rings and extra lives. The very next Act in the same Zone features cannons that Sonic can shoot himself out of to travel long distances. Lost Labyrinth Zone Act 1 features large boulders that Sonic can run on top of for travel if he can keep his balance. Easily my favorite gimmick comes from Lost Labyrinth Act 2. The level is very dark, and Sonic carries a torch throughout the whole level. This torch allows him to light larger torches and packs of dynamite to open up new areas. These kinds of gimmicks keep the levels fresh throughout the entire game.

Sonic 4’s level design isn’t perfect. There is another design trait it inherited from Sonic Rush, and it’s pretty nasty: the unexpected death pits. It just seems like bottomless pits are put in places where you can’t tell there are bottomless pits, and falling in them due to a misplaced homing attack or jump is just plain frustrating. It also isn't particularly difficult. Seriously, Sonic 4 is really easy, and you’ll find yourself racking up lots of lives throughout the game. Fortunately, the game isn’t completely without challenge. Getting to the end of an Act with 50 rings to reach the special stage is just as hard as ever, and actually beating the special stage is a whole other story. Some of the later bosses can also be quite challenging, especially the final boss.

Being only the first episode of a much bigger game, Sonic 4: Episode I is pretty short, but as fun as it is, it’s likely that you’re going to find yourself replaying the game several times. In addition to that, there is a time attack mode, complete with leaderboards to compare your times to other players.


Sonic 4: Episode I is easily the best Sonic game in years. It’s really fast and a crapload of fun. It’s not without its flaws, but SEGA is finally on the right track with the franchise in my opinion. I highly suggest that you download this game, and if you’re unsure of it, you can always try out the demo. If Sonic Colors is as good as it looks, then I’ll finally be able to say something I’ve wanted to say for at least three years: Sonic is BACK!

So What’s Good?

- Pretty graphics
- Great music
- Great sense of speed
- Homing attack works well in 2-D
- Fun level design
- Almost every level brings in a new, fun gimmick
- Great replay value

…But What’s Bad?

- Physics feature some minor glitches, nothing game breaking
- Bottomless pits can catch you off guard and you can’t always tell where they are
- Pretty easy

Score: 4/5

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